King Lear at Bath Theatre Royal

ONE of the programme essays for Somerset born Lucy Bailey’s production of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, King Lear, at Bath, begins with the paragraph “King Lear is a play about homelessness.”

No it’s not. It might as well have said “a play about cake cutting”.

The tragedy is that the fine and versatile actor David Haig should give his career-summit first performance as the maddened king in this dreadful production, on stage at Bath until 10th August.

Apart from his multi-layered, subtle, illuminating and heartbreaking performance, which at times manages to soar above the Mockney morass around him, it’s hard to find a single thing to recommend about this self indulgent and ill judged farrago.

The Bard managed very well to indicate the evil internal conflicts of the bastard Edmund, without the need for the anonymous sex in a telephone box.

The “homeless theme” is underlined by masturbating street sleepers.

Lear’s elder daughters Goneril and Regan are almost interchangeable, different only in that one mangles the language a bit more than the other. Shakespeare’s rhythms are not helped by pronouncing “split” in the currently-fashionable “spur-lit” way. Worse still is “grown” as “ger-owe-un”.

Set in a pseudo-sixties Kray-style gangland, it’s apparently about turf wars and draws its “inspiration” from The Wire and The Sopranos. I suppose this is meant to make it relevant and accessible to a 21st century audience.

All the actors (with the inexplicable but merciful exception of Lear and the very moving Cordelia of Fiona Button) use this generic East End accent, although Paul Shelley’s Gloucester can’t quite convince himself to maintain it … and who could blame him.

If you are a devoted David Haig fan, keen to see him add another mad king to his list after his memorable George III, go and see this. Or join me in praying that he is asked to play the role again in a very different production, as he is superb.


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